He yammered on about this and that for the next bit but I struggled to pay attention. Suddenly I was no longer in my kitchen, I was somewhere else. It was taking all of my brain power to get me focused on the fact that this was reality.

Oh lord, please don’t let this be a dream. This was everything I had ever wished and asked for, and I had made that plea many a time while growing up. I always thought it went unheard.

“All right, Dawn. I’ve got to go handle something. Are you going to need a few days to think about this? I can give you one. They want you on their bus by August 2nd in Colorado, start of the tour.”

“Can I let you know tomorrow?” I asked. As much as I wanted to do this, needed to do this, I did have my family to think about. And even though Barry said Creem would pay me, I’d be up and leaving my brother and father, and I’d be cutting into some crucial practice time with Moonglow. If I had to be there on August 2nd, that left me five days.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Talk to you then.”

The line went dead. I stared at the phone in my hand, unable to process what had just happened. I slowly hung it up on the receiver and was met with the biggest urge to break down and cry.

CHAPTER THREE

“So what rock star are you going to sleep with first?” Mel asked. “Robbie? Sage? Or Mr. Black Magic?”

I rolled over on my side and gave her the dirtiest look I could muster. It was the next day and we were lying side by side up in the hayloft, the only cool place around when the temperatures were climbing. The hay made a comfortable place to chill and sip cold beers, and today we had out every magazine I had that featured Hybrid in some way, including Creem.

“None of them. And I haven’t decided if I’m going to or not,” I pointed out.

She snorted and took a chug of her beer, finishing it off before tossing it over the side of the loft. It landed on the ground below with a clank and I could hear Moonglow startle in her stall. I shot her another dirty look, which she ignored.

“You totally know you’re going, Dawn. Eric knows you’re going. Your pa knows you’re going. Your horse knows you’re going. I know you’re going. The only one who doesn’t know is this Kramer dude, and you’re going to have to call him pretty soon before he decides to give your assignment to someone else.”

“Except there isn’t anyone else,” I reminded her. “Edwards asked for me specifically.”

“I know,” she said thoughtfully. She pulled a beer out of the cooler beside us and took a sip. “Don’t you think that’s a little odd though? I mean, it’s totally bitchin’, don’t get me wrong, but it’s kind of weird that this guy wants you, right?”

I nodded and blew a piece of hair away from my sweaty face.

“It is weird,” I admitted. “I’ve been thinking about it over and over. It’s just too good to be true. The only thing that makes any sense is the fact that they need to win over a female audience, and maybe they didn’t like the other female writers’ voice as much as mine. Or maybe they asked, like, Patti Smith first and she said no. I don’t know. It’s far-out but it’s happening. I think.”

“Stop pretending you have to think about it,” she said. She smacked me lightly on my arm. “I’ll come by and make sure little Eric is doing all right. He can even come over for dinner when Mom makes her famous wings. And you know I’ll have a few drinks with your dad.”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Whatever, your dad’s cool. We ain’t any better than he is.” She took a sip to emphasize her point. “So what else is stopping you?”

I looked down at the dirt floor way below us. “Moonglow. She’s not turning as fast as she used to be. I don’t think I’ll be able to just show up at the rodeo and win anything. I have to practice.”

“Oh shut up about practicing. Give the damn horse a break! You’ve been doing the rodeo for long enough.”

“I know. That’s why this was supposed to be our last year.”

“Well, maybe next year will be your last year. You’re good at the horsey stuff but you’re better at the writing. You’re twenty-one, not twelve. I know your goal in life isn’t to marry a horse anymore, thank god, cuz that was getting weird.”

I sighed, wishing this whole thing could have happened at a better time. Preferably not one that made my head swell with the heat.

“So, then what else?” She handed me the beer, which was already growing warm. Beads of moisture ran down the can and made my hands slick.

I pursed my lips, pretending I was thinking when I wasn’t.

“Oh, seriously?” Mel caught on. “Ryan?”

I shrugged. “I’d be on the road for who knows how long. They say a couple of weeks but if I don’t get the story, that might turn into three or four. I might be there for the whole tour, I don’t know. So what if I come back here and Ryan has already left for Seattle?”

She palmed her face and shook her head. “You’re crazy, woman. Crazy fucking city, that’s what you are, that’s where you live.”

It was crazy city. But it was the truth. The sad, pathetic truth.

She sighed and snatched the beer back from me. “So, you’re considering not going on tour with one of your favorite bands. With one of your favorite musicians, the man you call the musical genius of our time, Mr. Sage Knightly, who happens to be one fine piece of ass. Because you’re afraid that your loser creep ex-boyfriend might be gone?”

I cringed and opened my mouth to defend Ryan. Sure, he didn’t break up with me in the nicest way, and I had caught him cheating on me (though it was only a kiss, he swears), but Ryan had my heart for the better part of my life and—

“Turn off your brain!” Mel yelled, interrupting my deluded thoughts. “I know what you’re thinking! And guess what, he is already gone. I’m sorry girl, I hate to sound mean but you really ought to get it through your thick skull that you and Ryan are dunzo. And because of that, your life is about to get awesome. You’re going to let some boy who wasn’t even good enough to stay with you, you’re going to let him prevent you from actually reaching your dream?”

“No,” I told her. I wasn’t.

“What was that?” she asked.

“No!” I repeated.

She cupped her ear with her hand. “I can’t hear you.”

“I said no!” I yelled. Moonglow snorted from down below.

Mel grinned. “That’s better. Now slap me some ace.”

We high-fived. She brought out another beer from the cooler and tossed it to me and we clinked bottles over floating dust and summer sweat.

“So, back to my question…which one of them are you going to shag?”

I laughed. “Oh, Mel. You know me.”

She watched me carefully, deep in thought. “Actually, I don’t think you even know you right now. But you’re about to find out exactly who Dawn Emerson is. And you might find that after being on a bus with some of the hottest, most virile men in the USA, you’ll be coming back a whole new woman. And the only way you’ll get there is by being shagged to death. Preferably by more than one man.”

She finished that off by wagging her brows. I giggled, my face going uncharacteristically red. I knew there wasn’t going to be any “shagging” going on, but I didn’t doubt for a second that I was going to come back a whole new woman.

The question was: What kind of woman was I going to be?

~~~

“First time flying?” the woman next to me asked.

I looked at her kind face, fear flashing in my eyes. My hands were gripping the armrests until they turned blue, the safety belt tightened across my stomach as far it would go. Gee, how could she tell?

I nodded, swallowing hard. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to tear off the belt, run down the aisle, and jump down the emergency slide. The bus back to Ellensburg had to still be waiting outside the Seattle airport. I could use my return ticket, hop back on, and within a few hours I’d be back in my father’s arms and squeezing Eric to death. I’d never left home before. I’d never been on an airplane before. Today was full of way too many firsts and my queasy, panicking body wasn’t having any of it.

On top of that, I was sad and already missing everyone. Mel was right when she said that my brother and dad would be fine with me leaving. But it didn’t make it hurt any less. And it definitely didn’t ease the pressure. That morning I saw the sorry sense of relief in my father’s face. It made him look years younger. He was happy that I was going, knowing I was fulfilling a passion, and relieved that I’d be bringing home a check at the end of all of it. His salary as a repairman was barely enough to keep us going in this recession and it was peanuts compared to the farm when the cattle were grazing and the hay was growing. My contribution would help us out a lot, financially and mentally.

As for Eric, well I could tell he was putting on his brave face. But he could never fight the tics that came with emotion, and that’s what eventually gave him away. Plus he was my brother. He was as close to me as anyone could be and I would have done anything for him. If he had opened his mouth and said, “Please, Dawn, don’t go,” I wouldn’t have gone. But he hadn’t, because he loved me too and he wanted to prove that he could take care of Dad, even if Dad couldn’t take care of him. He told me to do good, to write every day, that he’d take Moonglow out on walks in the field to keep her active, and that he’d listen to Hybrid albums and send good vibes. I knew he would too. He was a good kid like that.

Then there was Mel. I’d never seen the girl cry in the eleven years I’d known her, but damn if I didn’t see some extra moisture welling up in those big brown eyes of hers. Of course she had to send me off with a few extra things that she shoved in my suitcase. One of them was her favorite t-shirt, white with stars on it that said “Mel Rocks Your Socks.” She had picked it up in Portland once at some funky shop and wore it at least once a week. She said she was giving it to me for good luck, “like a lucky Mel’s foot—except a shirt instead of my foot.”

She then proceeded to give me a blue dress with wide sleeves and a deep v-neck in both the front and back. I had only three dresses: a light cotton one that reached the floor, my tacky rodeo queen one, and the one I wore to prom. Those definitely weren’t coming with me on my trip and Mel knew it.

“You might have to look like a woman,” she said with a wink. “I thought this was a bit rock-ish too.”

I held up the dress against me. It would reach my knees at least but the top was a bit too risqué for my liking. But I thanked Mel anyway, brought her into a big embrace, and I was off on the Greyhound, looking down at the three of them as the bus left the station, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I spent most of the bus ride earlier trying to busy myself and keep my mind occupied from the pangs of sadness that hit my heart, and the fright that fluttered around in my stomach as I took on the unknown. I decided the best course of action would be to prepare myself as much as I could for Hybrid. I started by looking back at what I had written, including the piece that examined the evolution of their sound.

***

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